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Religious Chair Celebrates 20th Year

March 1, 1999

Jessie Morgan

Like two halves of the Good Book, Jews and Christians have a lot to offer one another. In this spirit of shared beliefs, the Catherine and Henry Gaisman Chair of Judeo-Christian Studies has been promoting exchange between the two faiths since 1979.

The Chair of Judeo-Christian Studies was founded 20 years ago by a group of nine Tulane chaplains from different faiths, headed by the Rev. Val McInnes, who saw a need for an academic presence of religion on campus.

"But the real reason for the chair was an attempt to show that the things that are held in common are greater than the things we hold differently," says McInnes, the executive secretary of the chair since its inception.

Embracing the spirit of the edicts of the second Vatican Council in 1962 that advocated dialogue between denominations and religions, the Tulane group founded the chair as an intellectual meeting place for Jews and Christians. And dialogue is good, McInnes says. After almost 2,000 years of misunderstandings there is a need to explore the shared roots of the faiths.

"There is a whole transformation of attitudes that goes on. Rather than being introspective, nursing our own wounds, people began to find all of these interesting aspects of dialogue that previously were not even thought of or even were forbidden," McInnes says.

The chaplains working with McInnes decided that discerning the common territory between the two religions was necessary to establish an exchange between the two groups. The Tulane student body is approximately one-third Jewish and two-thirds Christian, McInnes says.

To foster interaction between religions, the chair has held an annual lecture series dedicated to Judeo-Christian issues and has published four volumes of the work by its distinguished visiting scholars. Topics have included Jewish interpretations of New Testament texts and the Judeo-Christian influence on science and public policy.

This year's theme centers on the images of God that are shared by both faiths. The chair's work is complementary to Tulane's Jewish studies program, McInnes says, by focusing on what Judaism and Christianity have in common. McInnes notes that the Chair of Judeo-Christian Studies insignia incorporates all of the major world religions. It also represents the chair's goals for the future, McInnes says.

"During this anniversary year, what we want to do is to not only continue to highlight these interesting aspects of dialogue between Jews and Christians," McInnes says, "but also to extend it to other areas--also reach out to the Muslim and Buddhist, Shintoist and Hindu."

The 20th-anniversary speakers include the Rev. Andrew Greeley, sociologist and author, who will speak on "Images of God and Religious Imagination" on March 25 and Francis Cardinal George (G '70), arch- bishop of Chicago, who will present "Images of God in the Writings of Pope John Paul II: a Spirituality for the New Millennium" on April 12. Both lectures are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Rogers Memorial Chapel and are free and open to the public.

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